One of my training partners got in to an early showing of Warrior. When I asked him how it was he said it was a good mma movie.
“So which is it?” I ask . “A good movie or a good mma movie?”
This question is similar to the one that came up when my wife was giving me a hard time for watching Crank.
“You actually think this is a good movie?” She would say.
“No, but it’s a great flick.” I would reply.
It’s true. Go to work, go straight to the gym, train hard for an hour or two, get home, crash on the couch, crack open a beer, and flick on the TV. If Crank is on are you really going to change the channel?
Unlike Crank though, some people may feel that there is some plot in Warrior that it is important not to spoil. Well if you have seen the trailers inundating everything from theaters to TV to Hulu you already know nine tenths of the plot. So warning right here, I am going to spoil the hell out of Warrior.
This is the story of two brothers, Brendan, the walking cliché of the perfect good guy underdog, and Tommy, the anti-hero. Tommy is actually an interesting character. He is haunted by his broken childhood home and his motivations don’t become clear until about two thirds of the way through the movie. Brendan, on the other hand, is completely transparent. He is an underpaid teacher, the bank is going to foreclose on his house, his wife doesn’t want him to fight and it is strongly hinted that she made him quit fighting. His fighting style is to get his ass kicked round over and over again and then to bust out a submission right at the buzzer. Tommy has the opposite fighting style. Apparently he wrestled in school, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him fight because he loves to stand and bang. In fact he knocks almost all his opponents out in the first round. His motivations become clear when we find out that he is fighting to make money for the widow of his dead marine buddy. Of course to do this he goes AWOL from Iraq and ends up in Pittsburgh at his Dad’s house. I knew a guy whose job was to catch AWOL soldiers and he said the first place to look is always the parents’ house and then the girlfriend’s house. Not in this movie though, also no explanation for how an AWOL marine gets to the states from a battlefield in the Middle East. I guess he is just that much of a badass.
Now as everyone who has watched the trailer knows the mma fights take place in a tournament for the top 16 middleweights in the world. This was strange because it sets up the universe of the movie as a place where the UFC has existed and mma is popular enough to be on ESPN, Rashad Evans and Stephan Bonnar are shown commentating on ESPN, but somehow the UFC does not have any of the top 16 middleweights. Also the tournament is set up and run by an organization called Sparta, which was created by TapOut. Nice marketing guys. This leads me to assume that the story takes place in an alternate reality where mma is popular and the UFC existed but somehow failed. I initially assumed that the UFC had not been bought by Dana White and the Fertitta brothers but later they show Evans and Bonnar commentating for ESPN. So either the UFC failed after a couple of seasons of The Ultimate Fighter or the filmmakers are trying to say that Evans and Bonnar would have been famous even without the show. (They also show quite a few classic UFC posters in the background of many scenes.) Either way the idea of Warrior as science fiction due to its implication of alternate universes was one of my top three favorite things about the movie. My other two favorite moments were a cameo by author Sam Sheridan as a fight commentator, (Nate Marquardt and Anthony Johnson also make appearances) and a great new cheesy movie catch phrase rolling game. This last bit needs some explanation.
Every mma movie has really cheesy, so bad its good, moments in it. For instance after Never Back Down came out if there were two mismatched guys rolling at my gym anyone who yelled “Never back down!” as advice was sure to get a few chuckles. Bonus points if you did it at a tournament. Needless to say I was rabid with anticipation for a new catch phrase from Warrior. As I watched the movie I was starting to worry it wouldn’t happen. The movie is just shy of three hours long and there had not been a single catch phrase moment. Then right at the end it happens.
The estranged brothers face off for the five million dollar tournament finale. Brendan takes a vicious beating in the opening rounds, but through sheer willpower he avoids getting knocked out and comes back with the slickest move of the entire movie. He goes for an armbar and switches to the omoplata on the other arm. Tommy’s shoulder pops, but he is saved by the bell at the end of the round. Next round starts and Tommy is fighting with one arm hanging limp at his side and Brendan, having lost the will to smash his one armed brother, yells at him to give up. Finally Brendan rushes in and pounds Tommy to the mat, takes his back, and locks in the rear naked choke. But Tommy won’t tap. Cue a long poignant scene where Brendan gently whispers in Tommy’s ear.
“It’s ok, you can tap.”
(Apparently in this alternate universe it is possible to survive chokes and even kimuras via pure willpower for as long as you want without going to sleep or getting joints broken.)
Finally Brendan leans forward and whispers ever so gently into Tommy’s ear.
“I love you Tommy.”
Overcome with emotion Tommy taps and the brothers walk into the locker room hugging. Credits roll.
Anyway this is the perfect setup for a great gym game. You score points by getting your partner in a rear naked choke and saying in their ear,
“I love you Tommy.”
Bonus points if their name actually is Tommy. Mega bonus points if their name can have a ‘y’ added to the end.
“I love you Johnny, Brucey, Mikey, Charlie etc.”
Anyhow, John, Bruce, Mike, Charles, and Tommy better practice your back defense because you got a target on your back now.
Looking around the theater I expected to find a bunch of TapOut and Affliction wearing tatted up thugs, but was surprised to find a lot of date couples about half of which were older couples. I wondered how many people watching were actually mma fans. If the only thing they knew about mma was this movie I imagine they came away thinking every fighter in real life is a total spaz incapable of either a tight clinch al a Randy Couture, a lithe striking game like Anderson Silva, or a smooth ground game like Damian Maia. Fights in this movie are all one sided beatdowns with one guy landing monster punches while the opponent lays with their arms splayed out eating shot after shot with no attempt to clinch, cover up, or play defense. Also every punch lands with a loud vicious sounding smack.
A great example of art imitating life pops up when Josh Rosenthal, the only referee in this alternate universe, allows several fighters to get beaten down repeatedly while clearly unconscious. At one point my friend turns to me and says,
“Even in the movies Rosenthal sucks as a ref.”
As soon as he finishes saying this the trainer in the movie shouts,
“Do your job Josh!”
We both cracked up laughing and agreed that anyone who says this to Josh on camera during a PPV get monster bonus points.
There is also a case of art clearly diverging from real life when Brendan is suspended from his job as a physics teacher for creating a scandal by fighting mma. The movie conveniently ignores the fact that several real life fighters have been teachers including former UFC middleweight champ Rich Franklin.
Also in the Warrior universe it is apparently not that hard to get into the top 16 middleweights in the entire world tournament. In Tommy’s case all you have to do is walk into a gym in Pittsburgh and knock out the number one contender during a supposedly casual sparring match. I guess this happens all the time in the movie’s alternate universe because no one gets upset, or yells at Tommy, or kicks him out of the gym for walking in off the street and being a disrespectful douche and knocking the gyms best fighter out, probably with a concussion to boot, right before a five million dollar tournament.
Brendan on the other hand just has to talk his trainer into vouching for him. The trainer initially laughs at the idea but he eventually agrees because he is an unconventional genius. (We know this because he plays classical music during training and always yells “hear the Beethoven” during sparring sessions.) However, Brendan’s biggest obstacle to fighting in the exclusive top 16 fighter tournament is not the fact that he is barely a .500 journeyman fighter but his wife. From watching movies you would think that this happens all the time where a fighter marries someone who hates his fighting and makes him quit. I always think this is so bizarre because anyone who fights enjoys doing it and who marries a woman who hates the thing he loves doing most? Also, why does a woman marry someone who loves doing something she hates. As a former UFC fighter Brendan can have his pick of plenty of women who love fighters. Why waste time with her? This is where it starts to get bad. Wife says Brendan could die in the ring. My coach’s wife told me a story about when coach fought his first mma fight. She was nervous and coach’s trainer told her,
“What’s the worst that could happen? Broken limb, KO, broken nose. Can you live with a broken nose?”
She said when it was put logically like that it wasn’t so bad. Driving to work is potentially more dangerous. But instead of telling his wife this Brendan instead says that he has to fight or else they will lose their house.
“Then we’ll rent.” Crazy wife replies.
You know, rent, just like millions of other Americans. I guess renting is absolutely unthinkable in the Warrior universe though because Brendan decides to completely ignore that and fight anyway. But, its ok because as soon as she sees him in the ring she gets turned on and starts cheering for him. I wonder what would happen in a movie where the genders were switched. If a husband didn’t want his wife to be a professional fighter he would be an asshole that was not only keeping her from her dreams, but also a sexist pig who was trying to keep her in the kitchen. This fighter’s wife trope always seems silly because it ruins perfectly good movies and is completely unrealistic. How many married couples are there in real life that train together and fight in both mma and bjj? I rooted against Brendan the entire movie because of this cliché. Unfortunately it was a losing battle because everybody knows that the underdog always wins. It is time for these fight tropes to die. More career ending injuries occur in football than happen in mma and the overprotective wife never pops up in football movies. For me this turned what could have been a great film into just a good mma movie.
Final verdict: Good MMA movie.